UC president calls for ending SAT I requirement



UC president Richard Atkinson

21 February 2001 | UC President Richard Atkinson is recommending that the university no longer include the SAT I test as a requirement for students applying to UC’s eight undergraduate campuses.

In a speech Sunday to the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., Atkinson said the test, which is designed to measure verbal and math reasoning abilities, does not have a demonstrable relationship to a student’s course of study and often leads to preoccupation with improving test-taking skills at the expense of mastering high school subject matter.

“This proposal is about fairness in educational decision-making,” Atkinson said. “Applicants for higher education should be assessed on the basis of their achievements in high school, in the context of the opportunities available to them.

“Standardized tests are fair and useful admissions tools when they assess what students have actually learned in school — not how they rate on an ill-defined measure of aptitude or intelligence.”

Atkinson’s proposal has been sent to the UC systemwide Academic Council, the representative body of the faculty, which has responsibility for the university’s admissions standards.

If the proposal wins approval of the faculty and the Board of Regents, the earliest it could be implemented is fall 2003.
Berkeley already evaluates applicants along the lines that Atkinson is proposing, said Assistant Vice Chancellor Richard Black.

“Atkinson’s move towards a more holistic evaluation of student achievement, instead of relying on narrow quantitative criteria, is something Berkeley has been practicing for a number of years,” Black said. “We feel it is the best way to evaluate and build the kind of student body we want at Berkeley.

“The Admissions, Enrollment and Preparatory Education Committee, under the leadership of Professor Calvin Moore, looks at the role of all kinds of indices of academic success in developing our admissions guidelines,” Black said. “Our process does not place great weight on SAT scores, though it is one of many criteria that is considered.”

Berkeley admissions officials are awaiting a report from a December planning session on the role of the SAT in the campus’s admissions process.

Atkinson called for new standardized tests directly tied to college preparatory courses required of students applying to UC. In the interim, he is recommending that UC require students to take the SAT II exams in writing, mathematics, and a third subject selected by the student from a UC-approved list.

“The SAT II begins to approximate what I judge to be an appropriate test for the university’s admissions process,” said Atkinson. “It tests students on specific subject areas that are well defined and readily described.”

In recommending that UC reconsider its use of the SAT I, Atkinson urged the faculty to adopt several criteria for new standardized tests. In particular, he said that the academic competencies to be tested should be clearly defined; that students from any comprehensive California high school should be able to score well if they have mastered the curriculum; and that in reviewing their test scores, students should be able to understand where they did well or fell short and how they might improve their performance in the future.

Atkinson’s proposal is intended to further the standards-based movement in California and across the country. Over the long term, he said, replacing the SAT I with other standardized tests at UC “will help strengthen high-school curricula and pedagogy, create a stronger connection between what students accomplish in high school and their likelihood of being admitted to UC, and focus student attention on mastery of subject matter rather than test preparation.”

Atkinson said that a perception among ethnic minority groups that the SAT I test is unfair cannot be easily dismissed.

“Of course, minorities are concerned about the fact that, on average, their children score lower than white and Asian-American students,” he said.” The real basis of their concern, however, is that they have no way of knowing what the SAT measures and, therefore, have no basis for assessing its fairness or helping their children acquire the skills to do better.”

Atkinson acknowledged that while many others share his concerns, there is “no consensus on what to do or where to start. In many ways,” he declared, “we are caught up in the educational equivalent of a nuclear arms race. We know that this overemphasis on test scores hurts all involved, especially students. But we also know that anyone or any institution opting out of the competition does so at considerable risk.”


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